NASA

Shiver in fear of this 3-D model of Sandy's eye as the storm nears New Jersey.

Hurricane Sandy hasn't even made landfall, and it's already sandblasting beaches from New Jersey down to Virginia with tropical-storm-force winds. In New York, rooftop cranes are starting to topple – notably this dangling wonder over 57th Street.

Sandy is a category 1 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, meaning it's shooting out sustained winds between 74 and 95 m.p.h. But the sea storm's billowing shroud of clouds is concealing a much more potent beast, as NASA found out on Sunday afternoon.

The TRMM satellite (for Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) passed over Sandy as it was preparing to charge up its energy wells from a friendly a cold front, about 410 miles offshore of Washington, D.C. A radar sensor aboard the probe distinguished an eyewall that was about 25 miles wide, a modestly sized center for a hurricane. But its very presence was worrisome, as it signaled "evidence of remarkable vigor," says NASA:

Most hurricanes only have well-formed and compact eyewalls at category 3 strength or higher. Sandy was not only barely a category 1 hurricane, but Sandy was also experiencing strong wind shear, Sandy was going over ocean typically too cold to form hurricanes, and Sandy had been limping along as a marginal hurricane for several days

It's like the atmosphere has tried to hobble Sandy for the past several days, but the storm is shrugging it off and keeps coming. It's set to make landfall this evening around southern New Jersey, as predicted days ago by the National Hurricane Center. It's likely to then weaken, although there's a chance that another low-pressure system (whose tip is visible in the upper left of the TRMM image) could mix with Sandy's remnants and cause it to spring back to life, according to NASA.

Image courtesy of Owen Kelly of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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